Meet graduate student Sean Ooi

Sean Ooi
Sean Ooi

A MS degree student in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Sean Ooi is concentrating on the denitrification in New England salt marshes as his area of research. Here is how he answered our questions.

Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major? I studied at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. My major was biology.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? For as long as I can remember, I have always found the natural world breathtakingly beautiful and invaluably precious. Over the course of my schooling years, I developed an affinity for science and soon arrived at the conclusion that I wanted to become a scientist. From that point on, my goal throughout high school and college was to get a PhD so that I can do the science that helps keep the planet livable.

Who is your advisor? What is your field of research? My advisor is Assistant Professor Ashley Helton. The research that our lab does covers a wide range of topics in biogeochemistry from river network carbon dynamics to groundwater nitrogen legacies. My thesis research revolves around the process of denitrification, where microbes in the soil transform reactive forms of nitrogen into nitrogen gases. More specifically, I am studying the relationship between dominant vegetation and soil denitrification rates in salt marshes. Additionally, my work will also test how this relationship will change with sea-level rise, tidal restoration and seasonal change.

Name one aspect of your work that you like. One major thing I have learned in graduate school is that science is full of both challenges and possibilities. Every experimental design will inevitably have flaws, which I will have to address. Similarly, I cannot possibly investigate little detail about denitrification. Learning to pick out the best questions about big mysteries and the best solutions for unavoidable problems has been very intellectually stimulating.

In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment so far? Getting into graduate school was a watershed moment in my life. Giving a talk about my research at a conference recently prompted me to reflect on how hard I have worked to get here but also how fortunate I have been. The combination of squeaking into a special high school, receiving generous scholarships and the amazing support of friends and mentors makes me realize that it took more than a village to get me here. I hope I can continue to do right by everyone.

When do you expect to get your degree? What then? I expect to get my degree sometime in 2019. Beyond that, my goal is to get a PhD in some field of ecology, but I am still figuring out the specifics. Being in graduate school has allowed me to broaden my horizons and to see many new ways in which I can make a difference. Right now, I am hoping to widen the scope of my ecological research to incorporate social science and social work.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I consider myself an amateur enthusiast of philosophy. I aspire to mold myself after the gentlemen scholars of both Western and Chinese academic traditions, who were well-versed in many branches of knowledge and had active roles in their communities. As for my ‘scholarly’ connoisseurship of the fine arts, I really like video games.

By Patsy Evans